More than 75 injured in air race crash
RENO, Nev. - A World War II era fighter plane plunged into the grandstands Friday during a popular annual air show, injuring at least 75 spectators and leaving a horrific scene of bodies and wreckage.
It wasn`t immediately known if anyone died in the crash but a spokesman for the event called it a "mass casualty situation." Video showed a chaotic scene with several people apparently badly wounded.
Stephanie Kruse, a spokeswoman for the Regional Emergency Medical Service Authority, said 25 people were critically injured and another 25 people were seriously hurt in the crash. More than 25 more people were treated for minor injuries, she said.
Kruse said the critically injured were considered to have life-threatening injuries.
"This is a very large incident, probably one of the largest this community has seen in decades," Kruse told The Associated Press. "The community is pulling together to try to deal with the scope of it. The hospitals have certainly geared up and staffed up to deal with it."
The P-51 Mustang crashed into a box seat area at the front of the grandstand at about 4:30 pm, race spokesman Mike Draper said.
KRNV-TV weatherman Jeff Martinez, who was just outside the air race grounds at the time, said the plane veered to the right and then "it just augered straight into the ground."
"You saw pieces and parts going everywhere," he said. "Everyone is in disbelief."
Another witness, Ronald Sargis, said he was sitting in the box seat area near the finish line when the crash occurred.
"We could see the plane coming around the far turn - it was in trouble," Sargis told KCRA-TV in Sacramento. "About six or seven boxes down from us, it impacted into the front row."
He said the pilot seemed to do everything he could to avoid crashing into the crowd. Response teams immediately went to work, Sargis said.
"They put out a call for any medically trained or police trained personnel to come and help. Within about two minutes the ambulance crews were loading people up and transporting them away."
After the crash Sargis went up a few rows into the grandstand to view the downed plane.
"It appeared to be just pulverized," he said.
Draper identified the pilot of the P-51 Mustang as Jimmy Leeward of Ocala, Fla.
Leeward is the owner of the Leeward Air Ranch Racing Team and is a well-known racing pilot. His website says he has flown more than 120 races and served as a stunt pilot for numerous movies, including "Amelia" and "Cloud Dancer."
In an interview with the Ocala (Fla.) Star-Banner last year, he described how he has flown 250 types of planes and has a particular fondness for the P-51.
"They`re more fun. More speed, more challenge. Speed, speed and more speed," he said.
The National Championship Air Races draws thousands of people every year in September to watch various military and civilian planes race.
The races have attracted scrutiny in the past over safety concerns, including four pilots killed in 2007 and 2008. It was such a concern that local school officials once considered whether they should not allow student field trips at the event.
The competition is like a car race in the sky, with planes flying wingtip-to-wingtip as low as 50 feet off the sagebrush at speeds sometimes surpassing 500 mph. Pilots follow an oval path around pylons, with distances and speeds depending on the class of aircraft.
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., issued a statement saying he was "deeply saddened" about the crash.
"My thoughts are with the families of those who have lost their lives and with those who were wounded in this horrific tragedy," he said. "I am so grateful to our first responders for their swift action and will continue to monitor this situation as it develops."